And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him. And he opened his mouth, and taught them.—Matthew 5:1-2
The blessed evangelist St Matthew, the penman of this sacred history, was at first by profession a publican or gatherer of toll; and Christ, having called him from the custom-house, made him a gatherer of souls. This holy man in the first chapter sets down Christ's birth and genealogy. In the second, his dignity—a star ushers in the wise men to him, and as a king he is presented with gold and frankincense and myrrh (vv. 9-11). In the third chapter the evangelist records his baptism; in the fourth, his temptations; in the fifth, his preaching, which chapter is like a rich mine. Every vein has some gold in it.
There are four things in this chapter which offer themselves to our view,
1 The Preacher. Jesus Christ. The best of preachers. 'He went up.' He in whom there was a combination of virtues, a constellation of beauties. He whose lips were not only sweet as the honey-comb, but did drop as the honey-comb. His words, an oracle; his works, a miracle; his life, a pattern; his death, a sacrifice. 'He went up into a mountain and taught., Jesus Christ was every way ennobled and qualified for the work of the ministry.
(i) Christ was an intelligent preacher. He had 'the Spirit without measure' (John 3:34) and knew how to speak a word in due season, when to humble, when to comfort. We cannot know all the faces of our hearers. Christ knew the hearts of his hearers. He understood what doctrine would best suit them, as the husbandman can tell what sort of grain is proper for such-and-such a soil.
(ii) Christ was a powerful preacher. 'He spake with authority' (Matthew 7:29). He could set men's sins before them and show them their very hearts. 'Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did' (John 4:29). That is the best glass, not which is most richly set with pearl, but which shows the truest face. Christ was a preacher to the conscience. He breathed as much zeal as eloquence. He often touched upon the heart-strings. What is said of Luther is more truly applicable to Christ. He spake 'as if he had been within a man'. He could drive the wedge of his doctrine in the most knotty piece. He was able with his two-edged sword to pierce an heart of stone. 'Never man spake like this man' (John 7:46)
(iii) Christ was a successful preacher. He had the art of converting souls. 'Many believed on him.' (John 10:42), yea, persons of rank and quality. 'Among the chief rulers many believed' (John 12:42). He who had 'grace poured into his lips' (Psalm 45:2), could pour grace into his hearers' hearts. He had the key of David in his hand, and when he pleased did open the hearts of men, and make way both for himself and his doctrine to enter. If he did blow the trumpet his very enemies would come under his banner. Upon his summons none dare but surrender.
(iv) Christ was a lawful preacher. As he had his unction from his Father, so his mission. 'The Father that sent me bears witness of me' (John 8:18). Christ, in whom were all perfections concentred, yet would be solemnly sealed and inaugurated into his ministerial as well as mediatory office. If Jesus Christ would not enter upon the work of the ministry without a commission, how absurdly impudent are they who without any warrant dare invade this holy function! There must be a lawful admission of men into the ministry. 'No man taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron' (Hebrews 5:4). Our Lord Christ, as he gave apostles and prophets who were extraordinary ministers, so pastors and teachers who were initiated and made in an ordinary way (Ephesians 4:11); and he will have a ministry perpetuated; 'Lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world' (Matthew 28:20). Sure, there is as much need of ordination now as in Christ's time and in the time of the apostles, there being then extraordinary gifts in the church which are now ceased.
But why should not the ministry lie in common?
'Hath the Lord spoken only by Moses?' (Numbers 12:2). Why should not one preach as well as another? I answer—Because God (who is the God of order) has made the work of the ministry a select, distinct office from any other. As in the body natural the members have a distinct office, the eye is to see, the hand to work; you may as well say, why should not the hand see as well as the eye? Because God has made the distinction. He has put the seeing faculty into the one and not the other. So here, God has made a distinction between the work of the ministry and other work.
Where is this distinction? We find in Scripture a distinction between pastor and people. 'The elders (or ministers) I exhort... Feed the flock of God which is among you' (1 Peter 5:2). If anyone may preach, by the same rule all may, and then what will become of the apostle's distinction? Where will the flock of God be if all be pastors?
God has cut out the minister his work which is proper for him and does not belong to any other. 'Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine... give thyself wholly to them', or, as it is in the Greek, 'Be thou wholly in them' (1 Timothy 4:13-15). This charge is peculiar to the minister and does not concern any other. It is not spoken to the tradesman that he should give himself wholly to doctrine and exhortation. No, let him look to his shop. It is not spoken to the ploughman that he should give himself wholly to preaching. No, let him give himself to his plough. It is the minister's charge. The apostle speaks to Timothy and, in him, to the rest who had the hands of the presbytery laid on them. And 'Study to shew thyself approved, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth' (2 Timothy 2:15). This is spoken peculiarly to the minister. Everyone that can read the word aright cannot divide the word aright. So that the work of the ministry does not lie in common; it is a select, peculiar work. As none might touch the ark but the priests, none may touch this temple-office but such as are called to it.
But if a man has gifts, is not this sufficient? I answer, No! As grace is not sufficient to make a minister, so neither are gifts. The Scripture puts a difference between gifting and sending. 'How shall they preach unless they be sent?' (Romans 10:15). If gifts were enough to constitute a minister, the apostle should have said, 'How shall they preach unless they be gifted?, but he says 'unless they be sent?' As in other callings, gifts do not make a magistrate. The attorney that pleads at the bar may have as good gifts as the judge that sits upon the bench, but he must have a commission before he sit as judge. If it be thus in matters civil, much more in ecclesiastical and sacred, which are, as Bucer says, 'things of the highest importance'. Those therefore that usurp the ministerial work without any special designation and appointment discover more pride than zeal. They act out of their sphere and are guilty of theft. They steal upon a people, and, as they come without a call, so they stay without a blessing. 'I sent them not, therefore they shall not profit this people at all' (Jeremiah 23:32). And so much for the first, the preacher.
2. The pulpit where Christ preached. 'He went up into a mountain.'
The law was first given on the mount, and here Christ expounds it on the mount. This mount, as is supposed by Jerome and others of the learned, was Mount Tabor. It was a convenient place to speak in, being seated above the people, and in regard of the great confluence of hearers.
3 The occasion of Christ's ascending the mount:'Seeing the multitude.'
The people thronged to hear Christ, and he would not dismiss the congregation without a sermon, but 'seeing the multitude he went up'. Jesus Christ came from heaven as a factor for souls. He lay legier here awhile; preaching was his business. The people could not be so desirous to hear as he was to preach. He who treated faint bodies with compassion (Matthew 15:32), much more pitied dead souls. It was his 'meat and drink, to do his Father's will (John 4:34). 'And seeing the multitude', he goes up into the mount and preaches. This he did not only for the consolation of his hearers, but for the imitation of his ministers.
From whence observe that Christ's ministers according to Christ's pattern must embrace every opportunity of doing good to souls. Praying and preaching and studying must be our work. 'Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season' (2 Timothy 4:2). Peter, seeing the multitude, lets down the net and, at one draught, catches three thousand souls (Acts 2:41). How zealously industrious have God's champions been in former ages in fulfilling the work of their ministry, as we read of Chrysostom, Augustine, Basil the Great, Calvin, Bucer and others, who for the work of Christ 'were nigh unto death'. The reasons why the ministers of Christ (according to his pattern) should be ambitiously desirous of all opportunities for soul-service are:
(i) Their commission: God has entrusted them as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Now you know an ambassador waits for a day of audience, and as soon as a day is granted, he faithfully and impartially delivers the mind of his prince. Thus Christ's ministers, having a commission delegated to them to negotiate for souls, should be glad when there is a day of audience, that they may impart the mind and will of Christ to his people.
(ii) Their titles: Ministers are called God's sowers (1 Corinthians 9:11). Therefore they must upon all occasions be scattering the blessed seed of the Word. The sower must go forth and sow; yea, though the seed fall upon stones, as usually it does, yet we must disseminate and scatter the seed of the Word upon stony hearts, because 'even of these stones God is able to raise up children' to himself.
Ministers are called stars. Therefore they must shine by word and doctrine in the firmament of the church. Thus our Lord Christ has set them a pattern in the text: 'Seeing the multitude, he went up into the mountain.' Here was a light set upon an hill, the bright morning star shining to all that were round about. Christ calls his ministers 'the light of the world' (Matthew 5:14). Therefore they must be always giving forth their lustre. Their light must not go out till it be in the socket, or till violent death as an extinguisher put it out.
(iii) Christ's ministers must catch at all occasions of doing good to others, in regard of the work which they are about, and that is saving of souls. What a precious thing is a soul! Christ takes, as it were, a pair of scales in his hands and he puts the world in one scale and the soul in the other, and the soul outweighs (Matthews 16:26). The soul is of a noble origin, of a quick operation; it is a flower of eternity; here, in the bud; in heaven, fully ripe and blown. The soul is one of the richest pieces of embroidery that ever God made, the understanding bespangled with light, the will invested with liberty, the affections like musical instruments tuned with the finger of the Holy Ghost. The soul is Christ's partner, the angels, familiar. Now if the souls of men are of so noble an extract and made capable of glory, oh how zealously industrious should Christ's ministers be to save these souls! If Christ spent his blood for souls, well may we spend our sweat. It was Augustine's prayer that Christ might find him at his coming either praying or preaching. What a sad sight is it to see precious souls as so many pearls and diamonds cast into the dead sea of hell!
(iv) The ministers of Christ, 'seeing the multitude', must 'ascend the mount', because there are so many emissaries of Satan who lie at the catch to subvert souls. How the old serpent casts out of his mouth floods of water after the woman to drown her! (Revelation 12:15). What floods of heresy have been poured out in city and country, which have overflowed the banks not only of religion but civility. Ignatius calls error 'the invention of the devil', and Bernard calls it 'a sweet poison'. Men's ears, like sponges, have sucked in this poison. Never were the devil's commodities more vendible in England than now. A fine tongue can put off bad wares. The Jesuit can silver over his lies, and dress error in truth's coat. A weak brain is soon intoxicated. When flattery and subtlety meet with the simple, they easily become a prey. The Romish whore entices many to drink down the poison of her idolatry and filthiness, because it is given in 'a golden cup' (Revelation 17:4). If all who have the plague of the head should die, it would much increase the bill of mortality. Now if there be so many emissaries of Satan abroad, who labour to make proselytes to the church of Rome, how it concerns them whom God has put into the work of the ministry to bestir themselves and lay hold on all opportunities, that by their spiritual antidotes they may 'convert sinners from the error of their way and save their souls from death!' (James 5:20). Ministers must not only be 'pastores', but 'proeliatores' . In one hand they must hold the bread of life and 'feed the flock of God'; in the other hand, they must hold the sword of the Spirit and fight against those errors which carry damnation in their front.
(v) The ministers of Christ should wait for all opportunities of soul-service, because the preaching of the Word meets so many adverse forces that hinder the progress and success of it. Never did a pilot meet with so many Euroclydons and crosswinds in a voyage, as the spiritual pilots of God's church do when they are transporting souls to heaven.
Some hearers have bad memories (James 1:25). Their memories are like leaking vessels. All the precious wine of holy doctrine that is poured in runs out immediately. Ministers cannot by study find a truth so fast as others can lose it. If the meat does not stay in the stomach, it can never breed good blood. If a truth delivered does not stay in the memory, we can never be, as the apostle says, 'nourished up in the words of faith' (1 Timothy 4:6). How often does the devil, that fowl of the air, pick up the good seed that is sown! If people suffer at the hands of thieves, they tell everyone and make their complaint they have been robbed; but there is a worse thief they are not aware of! How many sermons has the devil stolen from them! How many truths have they been robbed of, which might have been so many deathbed cordials! Now if the Word preached slides so fast out of the memory, ministers had need the oftener to go up the preaching mount, that at last some truth may abide and be as 'a nail fastened by the masters of assemblies'.
The ears of many of our hearers are stopped with earth. I mean the cares of the world, that the Word preached will not enter, according to that in the parable, 'Hearing they hear not' (Matthew 13:13). We read of Saul, his eyes were open, yet 'he saw no man' (Acts 9:8). A strange paradox! And is it not as strange that men's ears should be open, yet 'in hearing hear not?' They mind not what is said: 'They sit before thee as my people sitteth... but their heart goeth after their covetousness' (Ezekiel 33:31). Many sit and stare the minister in the face, yet scarce know a word he says. They are thinking of their wares and drugs and are often casting up accounts in the church. If a man be in a mill, though you speak never so loud to him, he does not hear you for the noise of the mill. We preach to men about matters of salvation, but the mill of worldly business makes such a noise that they cannot hear; 'in hearing they hear not'. It being thus, ministers who are called 'sons of thunder' had need often ascend the mount and 'lift up their voice like a trumpet' (Isaiah 58:1) that the deaf ear may be syringed and unstopped, and may hear 'what the Spirit saith unto the churches' (Revelation 2:7).
Others, as they have earth in their ears, so they have a stone in their hearts. They make 'their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law' (Zechariah 7:12). The ministers of Christ therefore must be frequently brandishing the sword of the Spirit and striking at men's sins, that, if possible, they may at last pierce the heart of stone. When the earth is scorched with the sun, it is so hard and crusted together, that a shower of rain will not soften it. There must be shower after shower before it will be either moist or fertile. Such an hardened piece is the heart of man naturally. It is so stiffened with the scorchings of lust, that there must be 'precept upon precept' (Isaiah 28:10). Our doctrine must 'distil as the dew, as the small rain on the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass' (Deuteronomy 32:2).
(vi) Christ's ministers, according to the example of their Lord and Master, should take all occasions of doing good, not only in regard of God's glory, but their own comfort. What triumph is it, and cause of gladness, when a minister can say on his deathbed, 'Lord, I have done the work which thou gayest me to do', I have been trading for souls! When a minister comes to the mount of glory, the heavenly mount, it will be a great comfort to him that he has been so often upon the preaching mount. Certainly if the angels in heaven rejoice at the conversion of a sinner (Luke 15:7, 10), how shall that minister rejoice in heaven over every soul that he has been instrumental to convert! As it shall add a member to Christ's body, so a jewel to a minister's crown. 'They that are wise', or as the original carries it, 'They that are teachers shall shine (not as lamps or tapers, but) as stars (Daniel 12:3); not as planets, but as fixed stars in the firmament of glory for ever.,
And though 'Israel be not gathered', yet shall God's ministers 'be glorious in the eyes of the Lord' (Isaiah 49:5). God will reward them not according to their success, but their diligence. When they are a 'savour of death' to men, yet they are a 'sweet savour' to God. In an orchard the labourer that fells a tree is rewarded as well as he that plants a tree. The surgeon's bill is paid though the patient die.
First, let me crave liberty to speak a word to the Elishas, my reverend and honoured brethren in the ministry. You are engaged in a glorious service. God has put great renown upon you. He has entrusted you with two most precious jewels, his truths and the souls of his people. Never was this honour conferred upon any angel to convert souls! What princely dignity can parallel this? The pulpit is higher than the throne, for a truly constituted minister represents no less than God himself. 'As though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God' (2 Corinthians 5:20). Give me leave to say as the apostle, 'I magnify my office' (Romans 11:13). Whatever our persons are, the office is sacred. The ministry is the most honourable employment in the world. Jesus Christ has graced this calling by his entering into it. Other men work in their trade; ministers work with God. 'We are labourers together with God' (1 Corinthians 3:9). O high honour! God and his ministers have one and the same work. They both negotiate about souls. Let the sons of the prophets wear this as their crown and diadem.
But while I tell you of your dignity, do not forget your duty. Imitate this blessed pattern in the text, 'the Lord Jesus who, seeing the multitudes, went up and taught'. He took all occasions of preaching Sometimes he taught in the temple (Mark 14:49); sometimes in a ship (Mark 4:1), and here, upon the mount. His lips were a tree of life that fed many. How often did he neglect his food, that he might feast others with his doctrine! Let all the ministers of Christ tread in his steps! Make Christ not only your Saviour, but your example. Suffer no opportunities to slip wherein you may be helpful to the souls of others. Be not content to go to heaven yourselves, but be as the Primum Mobile, which draws other orbs along with it. Be such shining lamps that you may light others to heaven with you. I will conclude with that of the apostle: 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord' (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Secondly, let me turn myself to the flock of God. If ministers must take all opportunities to preach, you must take all opportunities to hear. If there were twice or thrice a week a certain sum of money to be distributed to all comers, then people would resort thither. Now think thus with yourselves; when the Word of God is preached, the bread of life is distributed, which is more precious than 'thousands of gold and silver' (Psalm 119:72). In the Word preached, heaven and salvation is offered to you. In this field the pearl of price is hid. How should you 'flock like doves' to the windows of the sanctuary (Isaiah 60:8)! We read the gate of the temple was called 'beautiful' (Acts 3:2). The gate of God's house is the beautiful gate. Lie at 'these posts of wisdom's doors' (Proverbs 8:34).
Not only hear the Word preached, but encourage those ministers who do preach by liberal maintaining of them. Though I hope all who have God's Urim and Thummim written upon them, can say, as the apostle, 'I seek not yours, but you' (2 Corinthians 12:14), yet that scripture is still canonical, 'So hath the Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel' (1 Corinthians 9:14). Are not labourers in a vineyard maintained by their labours? says Peter Martyr. And the apostle puts the question, 'Who planteth a vineyard and eateth not the fruit of it? (1 Corinthians 9:7). Hypocrites love a cheap religion. They like a gospel that will put them to no charges. They are content so they may have golden bags, to have wooden priests. How many by saving their purses have lost their souls! Julian the Apostate robbed the ministers, pretending conscience. I need not tell you how vengeance pursued him. Is it not pity the fire on God's altar should go out for want of pouring on a little golden oil? David would not offer that to God which cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).
Encourage God's ministers by your fruitfulness under their labours. When ministers are upon the 'mount', let them not be upon the rocks. What cost has God laid out upon this city! Never, I believe, since the apostles, times was there a more learned, orthodox, powerful ministry than now. God's ministers are called stars (Revelation 1:20). In this city every morning a star appears, besides the bright constellation on the Lord's Day. Oh you that feed in the green pastures of ordinances, be fat and fertile; you that are planted in the courts of God, flourish in the courts of God (Psalm 92:13). How sad will it be with a people that shall go laden to hell with Gospel blessings! The best way to encourage your ministers is to let them see the travail of their souls in your new birth. It is a great comfort when a minister not only woos souls, but wins souls. 'He that winneth souls is wise' (Proverbs 11:30). This is a minister's glory. 'For what is our joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye?' (1 Thessalonians 2:19). A successful preacher wears two crowns, a crown of righteousness in heaven, and a crown of rejoicing here upon earth. 'Are not ye our crown?'
Encourage your ministers by praying for them. Their work is great. It is a work that will take up their head and heart, and all little enough. It is a work fitter for angels than men. 'Who is sufficient for these things?' (2 Corinthians 2:16). Oh pray for them! Christ indeed, when he ascended the mount and was to preach, needed none of the people's prayers for him. He had a sufficient stock by him, the divine nature to supply him, but all his under-officers in the ministry need prayer. If Saint Paul, who abounded in the graces of the Spirit and supernatural revelations, begged prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:25), then surely other ministers need prayer who do not pretend to any such revelations.
And pray for your ministers that God will direct them what to preach, that he will cut out their work for them. 'Go preach... the preaching that I bid thee' (Jonah 3:2). It is a great matter to preach suitable truths; there are 'acceptable words' (Ecclesiastes 12:10).
Pray that God will go forth with their labours, or else 'they toil and catch nothing'. God's Spirit must fill the sails of our ministry. It is not the hand that scatters the seed which makes it spring up, but the dews and influences of heaven. So it is not our preaching, but the divine influence of the Spirit that makes grace grow in men's hearts. We are but pipes and organs. It is God's Spirit blowing in us that makes the preaching of the Word by a divine enchantment allure souls to Christ. Ministers are but stars to light you to Christ. The Spirit is the loadstone to draw you. All the good done by our ministry is 'due to the Lord's excellent and effectual working' (Bucer). Oh then pray for us, that God will make his work prosper in our hands. This may be one reason why the Word preached does not profit more, because people do not pray more. Perhaps you complain the tool is dull, the minister is dead and cold. You should have whetted and sharpened him by your prayer. If you would have the door of a blessing opened to you through our ministry, you must unlock it by the key of prayer.